Editorials: Why Pallo?

Remember the day last week that Pallo Jordan was fired from the Cabinet. We will look back at it as a moment which marked a major shift in the political style and approach of the African National Congress.

The dismissal of the most independent-minded left-wing intellectual in the Cabinet had nothing to do with his competence or suitability for the job. If it had, others would have gone before him. Mandela acknowledged this when he said that he “regretted very much” having to dismiss “one of our most competent ministers”. But, he said, he had to comply with the Constitution.

We have searched every clause of the interim Constitution and found no sentence that requires Mandela to fire his more competent ministers. Presumably, Mandela meant he had to lose a member of the Cabinet in order to maintain the necessary balance in the government of national unity.

But he did not choose the person doing the worst job. His eye happened to fall on the minister of posts and telecommunications. It is no coincidence that Jordan is one of the most outspoken Cabinet members, who has little hesitation in expressing his views on a range of subjects, even if it means disagreeing with Mandela and Mbeki.

This is the second time Mandela has moved against a member of his inner circle, the first being his wife’s dismissal as deputy minister. On both occasions, he acted not because of the lack of ability of the individual involved, but because each stood up to him.

Jordan was vulnerable as he had no organised constituency, the way Jay Naidoo does. He is popular, as his number two rating in the 1994 ANC national executive vote, proved; but he is expendable.

Mandela consulted only Mbeki, and surprised some of the other most senior members of the ANC with his decision. A tradition of consulting, of collective leadership, died with this Cabinet reshuffle.

So now we have an ANC under Mandela and Mbeki which prizes loyalty and obedience above competence; one concerned less with choosing the best person for the job than with selecting the person who can deliver the strongest support base.

The urgent drive to get South Africa on to the global information highway—- so crucial to our integration into the world economy—- has been delayed by this move. It will take a new minister some time to understand this technically difficult job.

And one must wonder if Naidoo, who has been quick to wave a finger at the media, will be as scrupulously hands-off as his predecessor towards the independent bodies now under him, such as the SABC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority.

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